Ballerina Paws. They fascinated me. Wispy, delicate paws that looked like they were fashioned by Dr. Seuss. She would cross them when she sat. Always a lady. She didn’t get that from me.
But the Eyes were my inheritance. Big Brown Eyes that lit up when she heard the magic words: Quieres caminar? That’s right. My dog was bilingual. Delicate, brilliant and elegant.
Collie… full name M. Collie Flower Crockett de los Rios (the name kept growing) became our first child nine years ago. A year into our marriage, we thought it was time to heed the call to “start a family”.
It was a mutual rescue.
We adopted her from a rescue group keeping her with some other dogs, which must’ve been distasteful for my little Alpha.
She rescued us from a dog-less existence, delivering us into a world of twice-daily walks where we actually met neighbors (strictly the dog types) and found ourselves fantasizing about visiting a sheep farm so our Shetland Sheepdog could live the dream.
It was actually between 5-year old Collie (tragically named “Cher” by the rescuers) and a 3-year old male Sheltie, whose name I’ve long since forgotten. The boy had the age advantage, but Collie had me at Arf. She sparkled, she spun, I was told she loved traveling…You could actually tell she was smiling. The other dog was painfully shy and suffered car sickness. What competition?
We quickly learned our new Dog Daughter was a sensitive soul. After realizing she wasn’t going back to her foster home, she fell into a depressive state…sitting in the dark… rejecting food…mourning another lost home and generally breaking her new mother’s heart. Her mourning ended after two days when her father spoon fed her homemade noodle soup. (Chicken Soup for The Canine Soul?)
A proud Dominant Dog, Collie was always up for a confrontation with other dogs. So we expected trouble when we brought her along with us on a brief trip to the SPCA… Instead, the smile vanished, the tail drooped, her head dropped. Barely lifting her snout, she gave me The Most Pathetic Look In The World. Suddenly, I realized…she must remember being in a cage. She was afraid we were returning her. I squeezed her tight and immediately carried her out.
Like many other much-loved humans, they believed they owned their dogs, instead of realizing that their dogs owned them.
– 101 Dalmations
We also discovered Collie loved traveling but would get too excited on vacation to eat for days… As i said, she was delicate. She loved running on the sand. Stopped to smell the flowers on her walks (hence the middle name). Slept like a log on airplanes. And once scaled a mountain then found her way back to the cabin we’d rented just one day before. (Where were we, you ask? Desperately searching an entire mountain for our missing party…)
Just like a human only child, Collie Flower eventually started clamoring for a sibling and compelled us to add to the brood by adopting…. A Cat.
That’s right. Collie saw beyond species.
For years, she would get so desperate every time she saw a black family, I suspected her first parents were black.
Collie packed more bounce per ounce than any dog I have ever seen. Bushy tail high in the air, she fooled everyone into thinking she was still a puppy, which could’ve made a lesser dog egotistical. She acquired the nickname “The Farrah Fawcett of Dogs” for her gorgeous hair. Naturally, she was on television. On my morning show. Stole the show. Traipsed across the entire anchor desk, enthusiastically greeting the weather man, then the traffic man, then my coanchor. That’s the Farrah Fawcett of Dogs for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sheltie adoptions skyrocketed across Houston after that segment….
But my perennial puppy…my delicate Collie Flower…was a fragile thing. A mystery injury befell her, suddenly paralyzing her back paws. Her desperate parents may have spent about four thousand dollars on medical care and testing that couldn’t determine what was wrong or whether she’d ever walk again.
I witnessed her will to move. I watched her fight sleep. I marveled at this spirit that refused to give in or give up or despair. I swelled with pride as I watched her frustration and confusion transform to ingenuity.
Her recovery was not perfect.
So she found a new way to sit.
Then she found a new way to run.
She learned to live without the ability to jump on furniture. She replaced it with a Jedi mind trick that compelled us to pick her up and place her on the furniture whenever she wished.
Collie became more than my Dog.
She became a teacher.
You fall down. You get up.
Your body feels weak? Your desire to sniff out the perfect patch of grass is stronger.
You can’t move the same way? Find a new way. Find a new way.
She was graceful. Of face and spirit. I was watching her. Noble, serene and spunky, the little one was setting one hell of an example.
Time is a harsh gift. The more it gives, the more prerogative it has to take. And time was taking the puppy dog bounce out of the Farrah Fawcett of Dogs.
Gray was whisking across her distinguished face. The old mystery injury was back, haunting her hind legs. Then her spine. Then her neck.
Getting up was a struggle, but when I came home from tour two months ago, she rose to meet me, tail high in the air, bounce intact.
She’d found new ways to make her body work. And when it denied her, I found she had learned to wait. She knew her grandparents would come to her rescue. She learned to stop panicking when the body wouldn’t budge. She kept finding a new way.
And troubled legs be damned, she still rose at 3am to make her rounds and came to my bedside on my last night home, giving me a long, deep look with the Big Brown Eyes. As if memorizing me. Or loving me. Or both.
I did the same.
I still see her standing there, on delicate ballerina paws, so improbably wispy. I still see the big brown eyes that smiled at me, pleaded with me, melted me, revealed guilt, and flashed unbridled joy. My hands still know exactly where she likes to be scratched until she collapses from the agonizing joy of it.
But my hands cannot reach her.
It happened under a mango tree, on a cool Florida Spring morning.
14-year old Collie laid her head down on the grass, felt the wind in her hair and the hand of God.
Now, it is up to me to honor her life by remembering her lessons.
Get up. Fight sleep. Use intelligence. Keep moving. Accept help. Love with abandon. Be patient and fearless. Persevere. Treat every trip like an adventure.
Show gratitude. Greet everyone in the room.
Really look at people. Be bigger than your body.
Pack more bounce per ounce. Find a new way.
Find a new way.